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The White House Wants to Ensure Good Stewardship of Infrastructure Funds

New guidance directs agencies on implementation of the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

The White House released new guidance on Friday on how agencies can ensure “accountability, effectiveness and transparency” in implementation of the $1 trillion infrastructure law enacted in November. 

President Biden has championed oversight since coming into office through implementation of the American Rescue Plan, relationships with inspectors general and now the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

“The initial guidance will ensure that there is minimal fraud, waste and abuse in the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and projects are delivered on time and on budget by delivering results with accountability, effectiveness and transparency; collaborating with inspectors general and the oversight community; and, providing technical and financial assistance for communities,” said a fact sheet from the White House. 

The guidance from the Office of Management and Budget––which builds off an executive order from Biden, on implementation of the infrastructure law–– provides direction on using data and evidence in designing programs; planning program implementation in order to be consistent with the law; documenting reviews and selections for discretionary programs; reporting on awards; engaging with IGs and the Government Accountability Office; and collaborating with state, local, Tribal and territorial governments. 

In addition to financial management and reporting requirements enshrined in laws and previous OMB guidance, this new guidance also builds off “effective practices” from the Biden administration in implementing the American Rescue Plan. 

In order to fully implement the infrastructure law, Shalanda Young, OMB director, previously said that thousands of new federal employees will be needed. 

The new guidance says, “to assess future workforce needs, agencies are strongly encouraged to develop short-, medium-, and long-term strategic workforce plans” and that agencies should incorporate their diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility strategic plans and other policies consistent with the “strengthening and empowering” of the federal workforce provision of the president’s management agenda into their recruitment, hiring, onboarding and retention practices. 

Agencies have already started reporting monthly on infrastructure awards and sub-awards, primary agencies have identified an infrastructure implementation coordinator, and the infrastructure task force and white house implementation team have already held dozens of meetings, according to the White House. 

“There’s a lot of really good stuff here and I’m extremely happy that the White House is trying to incorporate some of the lessons learned on some of the COVID spending [and] avoid some of the missteps that were made,” Sean Moulton, senior policy analyst at the Project on Government Oversight, told Government Executive. He applauded the administration specifically for bringing in the IGs early on, working to avoid improper payments early on, and providing financial and technological assistance to support inexperienced recipients and underserved communities.

However, he said he thinks the guidance “doesn’t go far enough in some areas.” For instance it lacks “clear requirements of what they want agencies” to do with award descriptions. Also “we really need to follow the money further” in terms of reporting on sub-awards. These things could be included in further iterations of guidance, Moulton said in response to a question.  

Unlike the CARES Act, with the infrastructure law “there’s only a couple of spots where it lays out some reporting requirements,” Moulton added. 

Courtney Buble / Government Executive

On Friday afternoon, Biden and senior administration officials, such as the OMB director and infrastructure implementation coordinator, met with IGs as well as leadership from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to discuss oversight of federal programs. 

Biden spoke about his time overseeing the Recovery Act for the 2008 financial crisis, during which he was called “Sheriff Joe.” 

"I want to make it clear to the press who’s here—no one in my administration is telling the inspectors general what to do," Biden said. “Strong oversight is how we're going to deliver for the American people.”

This article was updated at 4:45 p.m. with comment from Biden's meeting with IGs